• Christine Keate

From racehorse to therapy horse

A project led by the University of Bristol's Veterinary School in collaboration with Racing to Relate, will develop a global welfare standard for former racehorses who are moving into Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT).

Thoroughbreds are recognised for their sensitivity and the aim of this project is to provide a research-based approach to retraining them for therapy work. It is hoped that EAT could include work with many different groups of people, from veterans and disabled children to those struggling with mental health issues. The research, which is funded by the John Pearce Foundation, will look at practices in the UK, USA, France and Ireland to understand the impact of EAT on the horses.

Claire Neveux, Bristol Vet School PhD student for the project, said: "I have worked with thoroughbreds for about 20 years, mainly with broodmares and young horses, and I'm always amazed by their high reactivity and sensitivity. I'm also fascinated by the human-horse relationship. I had a few opportunities to participate in Equine Assisted Therapy programmes as an intern during my graduate studies and I'm thrilled to contribute to this research. I'm convinced that a better understanding of the thoroughbred personality traits and suitability of horses for EAT is essential for equine and human welfare." The main aim of the research is to create a create a global standard for selection and training, to help the racing industry to improve welfare support for off-track racehorses going into a career in EAT. The research will help industry and stakeholders to improve Thoroughbred welfare through a successful transition to their new career in EAT. Little research has been carried out on the welfare of horses within EAT programmes, and especially on the impact it may have on their wellbeing. In particular, this research will analyse the educational process for all horses within the EAT sector, to gain a clearer picture of why and how horses are selected for particular roles. The aim is to fully understand the current selection and training methods and to identify specific characteristics of the thoroughbred, which are suited to a career in EAT. The study will also explore details of the life and routine of equines within EAT, examining existing perceptions and considerations of horse welfare. Dr Siobhan Mullan, Senior Research Fellow at Bristol Vet School, and co-supervisor of the PhD project, said: "Thoroughbred horses involved in EAT programmes are performing a really special and valuable role in society, and yet little formal research has been done to understand how to optimise their welfare throughout their transition from racehorse to therapy horse and in their new career. I'm heartened by the interest around the world in using the results of our research to develop standards which will have a long-lasting impact on horse welfare."


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